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John McCain and My Dad 1954 | by Vermont Ferret
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John McCain and My Dad 1954

In case anyone's wondering, I voted for Obama.

 

FAITH OF MY FATHERS, McCain's autobiography of his life leading up to his release from "The Hanoi Hilton" in the 1970's, has a chapter ("Worst Rat") devoted to McCain's prep school years as "Punk" McCain, an irascible troublemaker and all-around bad dude who skirted the school rules frequently and slipped off campus on occasion for the Gayety Burlesque in D.C. (one of my own favorite high school hangouts by the way). At the end of the chapter McCain writes (pp 113-116):

 

"I had good friends at Episcopal. Memory often accords our high school years the distinction of being among the happiest, most relaxed of our lives. I remember Episcopal in that light, and the friendships I formed there make up the better parts of my remembrance. But there was one unexpected friendship that enriched my life at EHS beyond measure.

 

"Were Mr R****** the only person I remember from high school, I would credit those days as among the best of my life. His influence over my life, while perhaps not apparent to most who have observed its progress, was more important and more benevolent than that of any other person save members of my family.

 

"Mr. R****** headed the English department at EHS, and he coached the junior varsity football team, on which I played. He had been a star running back at Davidson College and had a master's degree from Duke University. Stocky and compact, he still had the appearance and manner of an athlete but without the callowness that often marks men who live in the shadow of their long-ago successes on the playing field.

 

"Like most men of his generation, Mr. R****** had known far greater danger than that posed by a tough defensive line. He had served in Patton's tank corps during the Third Army's aggressive advance across Europe and had survived its hard encounters with Hitler's panzer divisions. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, the only master at the school who still served in the military.

 

"With his craggy face and athlete's build, he was a rugged-looking man. He seemed to his students to be as wise and capable as any man could expect to be. He loved English literature, and he taught us to love it as well. He had a way of communicating with his students that was uniquely effective and personal. He made us appreciate how profound were the emotions that animated the characters of Shakespeare's tragedies. Macbeth and Hamlet, in his care, were as compelling and revealing to boys as they are to the most learned and insightful scholar. He wasn't Mr. Chips, but he was as close to that ideal teacher as anyone is ever likely to find. No other master had half as much of our repect and affection. My class dedicated our senior yearbook to him. He was, simply, the best man at the school; one of the best men I have ever known.

 

"Demerits required the offender to march ceaselessly around the long circle drive in the front of the school or to tend the yard of a master's house. It was my good fortune to have received for my many transgressions assignment to work in Mr. R******'s yard. Perhaps the school authorities knew they were doing me a favor--knew that Mr. R****** was best able to repair the all too evident flaws in my character.

 

"I don't know if it was their benevolence or Providence that brought me to his attention. Neither do I understand why it was that Mr. R****** took such an interest in me, seeing in me something that few others did. But that he did take an interest in me was apparent to all. And as he personified the ideal of every student, Mr. R******'s regard for me signaled my classmates that I had some merit despite the fact that they and I had to strain to see it...

 

"Many years later, when I came home from Vietnam, Mr. R****** was the only person outside my family whom I wanted to see. I felt he was someone to whom I could explain what had happened to me, and who would understand. That is a high tribute to Mr. R******. For I have never met a prisoner of war who felt he could explain the experience to anyone who had not shared it.

 

"I regret that I was never able to pay him that tribute. Mr. R****** had died of a heart attack [just months after my capture by the North Vietnamese]. He lived for only fifty-three years. His early death was a great loss to his family, friends, and students, and to everyone who had been blessed with his company; a loss I found difficult to accept."

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Taken on November 12, 2007